Loco Parentis: The Long Goodbye
As I write this, Jake’s in Europe, on a trip with his high-school A.P. European history class. It’s costing us way too much money, but we sent Marcy when she was taking A.P. Euro, and even though that was back before the bottom fell out of America, how could we not send him? So he’ll be touring Florence and Rome and Paris for the next week or so while I’m driving back and forth to work on the Schuylkill Expressway.
He’s been as blasé about this trip as he is about applying to college, and while I haven’t rubbed his nose in the expense, I was … disappointed that our only conversations concerning his Grand Tour consisted of me saying things like, “Did you pack the extra copy of your passport page?” I would have liked to discuss the de’ Medici with him, or how Michelangelo leaned backward atop a scaffold to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. But when he’s not in school or with the football team, almost all his waking hours are spent playing on his computer, and I’m forced to utilize the rare instances when he surfaces for important tutorials on how to wash all the food off plates.
The weekend before he left, Jake and I were at a college-graduation party for the son of family friends. It was sort of a nightmare scenario for us — enforced socialization, together — but the buffet was good. We sat at a table across from a 40-ish husband and wife we didn’t know from Adam, and I made conversation with them while Jake sucked down chicken wings. Somehow the subject of his impending trip to Europe arose, and the wife’s face lit up. “Oh, are you excited?” she trilled to my son.
There was a pause. I realized I was holding my breath, waiting for Jake to make some cutting response to her enthusiasm — such enthusiasm being anathema to the world-weary mind-set he and his friends cultivate.
Instead, he put down a wing. “I’m really excited,” he said.
I’m still surprised whenever I hear the deep, rolling rumble that Jake’s postpubescent voice has become. I was even more surprised at his admission. I hadn’t known he was excited about the trip; he surely hadn’t told me. For a moment, as I looked at him, I saw him as the friendly couple had to see him: a massively built young man of gargantuan appetites and enthusiasms, a traveler, an explorer, a positive life-force. In fact, the farthest thing conceivable from the black hole of negativity that sits at my supper table. Is it true that perception is reality? If so, my vision of my son is hopelessly skewed by the fact I must perpetually nag him to get his goddamned sneakers out of the middle of the living room floor.
It’s easier to love him in his absence. I try to imagine him in Rome. We went shopping the weekend before he left, and in the Nike store in the outlet place in Limerick, he seized upon a t-shirt, size 3XL, that was neon green highlighted by swirls of baby blue jewels. “I’m wearing this on the plane,” he said with relish, and he did.